Reading many of today’s “Christian” books is like eating fish – you have to watch out for the bones.
Let me begin today’s blog with a confession. By nature and temperament I tend to be a critical person. It is something I have fought all my life and with God’s help I am doing better. Still, if I let my guard down I soon find myself reverting to my earlier judgmental attitude. That’s what makes writing this blog so challenging. I don’t want to be a critical person and I certainly don’t want to be judgmental, nevertheless I feel compelled to address this issue so here we go.
Some years ago I read “God, Man and Archie Bunker” by Spencer Marsh. He begins the first sentence of the first chapter, “In the beginning Archie created God in his own image, in his own image created he him.” Upon first reading I found his statement clever and attention grabbing. Upon further reflection I find it both profound and prophetic – an apt description of our postmodern culture with its freewheeling spirituality. Faith has become private, a personal subjective experience not accountable to any objective standard. What many believe about God is based on personal “spiritual” experiences (think whims) rather than on the revelation of Scripture.
Several of the “hottest” books on the Christian bestseller list are a case in point. They combine Biblical truth, captivating readability and subtle errors. I am not suggesting the writers intend to deceive the reader but I am convinced that they have an agenda. At least part of their agenda is to reshape the reader’s theology and like Archie Bunker, the God they are creating is in their own image.
Probably the most talked about book this year is “The Shack” by William P. Young. It is a unique story that speaks to the emotional wounds many of us have suffered. While reading it I often found myself so profoundly moved by the revelation of the heart of Father God that I thought my own heart would burst. Yet at the same time I was deeply disturbed by the subtle distortion of scriptural truth. “The Shack” seems to affirm the redemptive work of Jesus Christ even as it undermines certain basic Biblical truths.
In the chapter titled “Here Come Da Judge” the Holy Spirit appears to Mackenzie in the form of an Asian woman named Sarayu and tells him to choose two of his five children to spend eternity in God’s new heavens and new earth. The other three will have to spend eternity in hell. When Mack protests that he can’t do that, that he couldn’t send a child he loves to an eternal hell, Sarayu replies, “I am only asking you to do something that you believe God does....You believe he will condemn most to an eternity of torment, away from His presence and apart from His love. Is that not true?”
Rather than send any of his children to hell Mack begs Sarayu to let him go in their stead. “If you need someone to torture for eternity, I’ll go in their place. Would that work? Could I do that?”
Sarayu then commends him for his choice and says that’s exactly what Jesus did. “He chose the way of the cross where mercy triumphs over justice because of love.”
While I found this imagined conversation a powerful picture of God’s love, two things bothered me. 1) The implication that no one will spend eternity in hell when in fact the Scriptures clearly teach that those who reject Jesus will suffer eternal judgment. 2) That at the cross “...mercy triumphs over justice...” when in fact both the justice and the mercy of God are fully expressed in the cross. Maybe what bothers me most is that Young seems to see the justice of God as an enemy of His mercy rather than complimentary characteristics of His holy nature. In truth God is both just and merciful.
There were a number of other things that gave me pause – the continuous overtures of universalism (the belief that ultimately everyone will be saved whether they believe in Jesus Christ or not), the chapter about relationships in which the author went to great lengths to say that in our relationship with God He has no expectations and we have no responsibilities, and in a later chapter where he says that God does not punish sin for sin is its own punishment. For all of its strengths “The Shack” has some dangerous flaws and we ignore them at our own peril. When one presumes to speak for God, as the author has done through the characters of Papa (Father God), Jesus and Sarayu (Holy Spirit), he assumes special responsibilities and should be held to a higher standard.
So what should we do? I’m certainly not suggesting that we throw the baby out with the bath water or that we should have a book burning. Rather I am urging readers to be discerning. Become a critical thinker and weigh what you read against the truth of Scripture. Reading many of today’s “Christian” books is like eating fish – you have to watch out for the bones.
Of course you also have to watch out for the bones when you read my blogs.
This is Richard Exley straight from the heart.
Prayer for the day: Lord, help me to become a critical thinker without being a critical person. In your holy name I pray. Amen.